Sunday, January 04, 2009

A Friend Like Henry by Nuala Gardner

A Friend Like Henry My Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Copyright: 2007
Pages: 342
Genre: Non Fiction

A harrowing & inspirational true story of the Gardner family written from the mother's perspective in honest, blunt language. This is not a flowery, descriptive telling, it is a matter-of-fact recount of day to day life with a severely autistic child. Nuala & Jamie's fight to have Dale's autism recognised & officially diagnosed, the anger & sadness, the depths of despair reached, the exhaustion & the small triumphs that kept them going. The all-consuming struggle to break into Dale's world in order to give their child a chance at a normal life.

I found Nuala's struggle to get Dale diagnosed heartbreaking. She is a community nurse and qualified midwife and many of the scenes she described with the medical profession were unfortunately all to familiar to me when seeking help for my own son.

* Doctors acting as if the parents were seeking attention rather than help for their son
* honest, passionate accounts of home difficulties were classed as negative responses
* factual accounts amounted to Nuala being rather cold and detached
* professionals stating that conflict between parents and child causing Dale's behavioural difficulties.

It's very distressing when a life that is already such an arduous climb becomes an insurmountable mountain courtesy of so called professionals.

On a positive note, there is no substitute for a parent's determination when it comes to protecting the rights and well being of their child. When Dale was finally diagnosed & Nuala & Jamie found the best assistance for him, the years of support & encouragement provided were immeasurable. Of course the momentous breakthrough that unlocked Dale's world came through the friendship & love of a labrador named Henry. Henry helped introduce Dale to many of the normal activities & communications most parents take for granted. The special bond between Dale & Henry was heartfelt and humbling.

There was a scene described by Nuala early in the book where she was helping her son cross a busy street. Dale dropped Mickey and half- way across the road a massive head-banging, screaming, kicking episode ensued. It was Nuala's description of onlookers reactions that I found apalling and very close to home.  I hope that the honesty of people like Nuala, opening her heart and her life, improves public awareness of these 'unseen handicaps'. Maybe the judgemental & ignorant responses such as "that kid needs a damn good smacking" & "Disgusting behaviour" will be less forthcoming.

In this book Nuala pays tribute to Henry, Dale's grandparents, friends & professionals & their incredible efforts to help Dale in his journey. The ultimate reward watching Dale grow to be the compassionate, well-adjusted young man he is today.

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